Vaulting forward with a jittery rhythm indicative of the unpredictable stylings we find throughout the debut album Small Flames by Dylan Blackthorn, the song “Rule of Three” politely sums up much of the main reason why any listener would want to give its parent LP a go inside of a little over three and a half minutes of running time. Powered by its experimental edge and disarming harmonies, this composition - and the other dozen that accompany it in the tracklist of Small Flames - is a statement of self on the part of its composer, and perhaps more importantly, a demonstration of the wit he brings with him into this project.
The eccentricities of “Bessarabian Traffic Jam,” the plodding “Starry Secrets,” equally complex “Gray Memories” and vibrant “Stoked” are balanced out by relative conventionalities in the likes of a familiar “The Reminder Waltz,” “Played by the Numbers” and blues-laden “Ten of Wands,” but it should be said that there is truly nothing one-dimensional in the whole of Small Flames. On the contrary, there’s so much color to the bulk of this material that it might be a bit overwhelming for newcomers to the American underground to embrace all at once (though I’d recommend their looking into this piece just the same).
“Mystic Balloon Quest Waltz,” “Silver Halo Blues” and “Folk Magick” sport some of the best instrumental harmonies I’ve heard in the month of April while “Float” and “Rule of Three” flirt more with textural expressiveness and, as previously mentioned, percussive pulsations capable of telling a story all on their own, and never do we find Blackthorn putting all of his stock into the lyrical component of this disc. Indeed, his words carry plenty of weight, particularly in the Nrya Song-featured “Candlelight” and “Gray Memories,” but I appreciate that there’s more to discover here than brooding poetry alone.
It would be really interesting to know the origins of “Silver Halo Blues,” “Bessarabian Traffic Jam” and “Ten of Wands,” if for no other reason than to better understand the aesthetics Dylan Blackthorn melds together so seamlessly. His avant-garde approach to composing can’t help but trigger thoughts of Alex Dingley, Patton Thomas, Howard James Kenny, and even Lou Reed in particularly powerful moments, but rarely does it ever feel like he’s specifically paying homage to any of his forerunners here. He’s got too much to say on his own, which says a lot about what we should expect from his camp in the future.
An interesting spring listen that rejects the rule book long before it’s ever been put out on the table, Small Flames is a curious collection of songs, stories, and sonic experiments only someone like Dylan Blackthorn could come up with, and if given a bit more exposure on the college radio front, I have a feeling it’s going to win him a lot of favor from across the underground this season. Blackthorn doesn’t hide who he really is from us in this piece, and perhaps even more important than that, he gives us as conceptual an offering as he can muster without ever bringing artificial details into the mix.
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